As far as I'm concerned, Donna Summer is pop royalty. Her partnership with Giorgio Moroder revolutionised dance music in the 1970s and her much maligned 1989 opus with Stock Aitken Waterman remains one of my all time favourite albums. Needless to say, I was more than a little excited when I learned that Donna was preparing to release her first studio recording in over 17 years. All the signs pointed towards a cracking return to form. Donna roped in all the big name producers, spoke of returning to her dance roots and lined up several huge promo appearances including the finale of American Idol. The undisputed Queen of disco forgot to do just one thing - record a decent album.
"Crayons" isn't awful. It's just awfully disappointing. Donna's much anticipated dance album turns out to be a disjointed collection of dated house tracks, unconvincing urban jams and dreary ballads. There are a couple of standout songs and even the filler is mildly entertaining but Donna could re-record "Hard Candy" and make it tolerable with her sheer charisma and stunning vocals. The album begins promisingly enough with the first single, "Stamp Your Feet". Produced by Greg Kurstin (the man behind Kylie's "Wow" and Sophie Ellis-Bextor's "Catch You"), the opening track happily bounces along with amusingly bad sports metaphors and an addictive chorus. The downhill slide begins with the second track. "Mr Music" sounds like something the Backstreet Boys recorded in 1999. That's not necessarily a bad thing for fans of cheesy urban pop but it's pretty embarrassing for the rest of us.
The title track is an unexpectedly cute reggae duet with Ziggy Marley. I love the infectious beat and the catchy chorus but it's hardly vintage Donna Summer. At the very least, "Crayons" is one of the few songs on the album that sounds like it was recorded this decade. Something that can't be said about "The Queen Is Back". I wanted to like this because of the autobiographical lyrics but the production is almost unbearably lame. This could be a reject from La Toya's scrapped "Startin' Over" album. Poor Toy Toy probably found her producers on the notice board of her local gay sauna. What's Donna's excuse? "Fame (The Game)" is the first song helmed by Toby Gad, probably best known for his work with Fergie and The Veronicas. I like the combination of guitars and heavy beats and the song really showcases the versatility of Donna's voice. This is more like it.
"Sand On My Feet" is the album's first and best ballad. The subtle, stripped back production is really quite lovely and Donna injects a real sweetness into the delicate lyrics. It's a relief to discover that time hasn't robbed Donna of her exquisite range. Just her common sense, if "Drivin' Down Brazil" is any indication. This samba flavoured nightmare is the musical equivalent of Rohypnol. It will put you to sleep and give you a nasty headache the morning after. "I'm A Fire" comes as a welcome return to the dancefloor - if you like 90s house. I love the "I'm A Fire" remixes that were promoted to clubs but the 7 minute album version is a dated mess. Things go from bad to worse with the torturous "Slide Over Backwards". Out of respect to Donna, I'll refrain from saying what I really think about this mind numbing rhythm & blues catastrophe.
In comparison to the crap that comes before it, "Science Of Love" sounds like a veritable masterpiece. Toby Gad has produced the best dance song on "Crayons". I have never been so happy to hear synths in all my life! I love Donna's anthemic vocals and the hands in air chorus is just what this album needed. "Be Myself Again" is another ballad. The lyrics are obviously personal and Donna squeezes every ounce of emotion out of them with her beautiful voice but the end result is slightly dull. It seems fitting that the final song on "Crayons" is utter rubbish. "Bring Down The Reign" even has cringeworthy chanting and weird bird sounds to make it even more shit. At least the Australian version of the album has the trancetastic "It's Only Love" as a bonus track. This would have been great back in 2001. Sorry Donna, I still love you but these crayons suck.